After Gophers coach Jerry Kill was taken off the field on a stretcher at the end of last Saturday's game, the outcome of the contest with New Mexico State became immediately irrelevant, as Kill's health took center stage.
Fortunately, it looks like coach Kill will be back on the sidelines Saturday for their home game against Miami (OH), on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and one thing is clear:
The Gophers have a long way to go, and it's essential that they move past Saturday's episode.
But there's one thing going in the Gopher's favor, and that's Kill and the coaching staff he has with him here at the U of M.
Coordinators Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover have been with Kill for over a decade, and have been through this exact same thing with Kill before. And while what happened on Saturday isn't ordinary, it's something that they have prepared for as a staff, and it is something that they are helping their young football team through. Strib writer Phil Miller writes:
The calm showed by Kill's staff, the reassurance that he's OK and the determination that the team's daily routines will not change, has helped the Gophers players get their minds back on football, and on Saturday's game against Miami of Ohio. The Gophers held their first full practice Tuesday since Kill's seizure in the final 20 seconds of Saturday's game, and nothing was different but the mood.
But it's time to turn the page to Miami (OH), a solid MAC football team that will give the Gophers all they can handle. Miami beat a Jerry Kill coached NIU team in the MAC championship last year, and the Gophers will have to do better on Saturday than they have in the first two games.
So, how are the Gophers doing? Well, not good. They are last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, and 10th in scoring defense. They are 11th in passing offense, 7th in rushing offense, and 10th in total offense. The Gophers are 11th in pass efficiency, and dead last in defensive pass efficiency. In other words, they are the most generous defense in letting opponents complete passes, gain yards, and score. They have given up more third down conversions, haven't registered a sack, and are 10th in penalty yardage against.
But there are some bright spots. Most importantly, Jerry Kill will be fine, and both Claeys and Limegrover stated they would be stunned if Kill wasn't back on the sidelines on Saturday. Secondly, MarQueis Gray and Da'Jon McKnight seem to be developing a chemistry between them, and McKnight had a big game against New Mexico State. Gray, although inconsistent as a passer, has still made some big plays throwing the ball, and he had over 100 yards rushing against New Mexico State. And you can't help but be impressed with freshman QB Max Shortell, who has played well in relief of Gray.
But still, there are a lot of things that need to be worked on. The defense has been underwhelming, and were manhandled by a New Mexico State team that was one of the worst in college football last year. Special teams is a concern, as kicker Chris Hawthorne is only 1-4 on field goal attempts for the season, and the one he made was a glorified extra point, a 21 yarder against USC.
Jerry Kill told us that this was going to be a long process, and although I thought he might have been playing a little bit of a rope a dope, it's now apparent after a bad loss to New Mexico State that he wasn't. But that said, I'm not abandoning ship after two games. There's talent on this team, and Kill has done a good job on the recruiting trail, so although it might be rough sailing ahead this season, I think the long term prognosis for the Gophers is still very promising.